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Will Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench Be Able to Help?

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As we briefly reported yesterday, the Jays added two veteran hitters in an effort to solve their offensive woes, Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson.

Mench, pictured at the right and looking like one of the many New Jersey dudes blowing dollar after dollar trying to ring the bell at the San Gennaro Festival , was acquired from Texas for cash considerations. Mench is 30 and coming off a subpar season for the Brewers in which he hit .267/.305/.441 in a crowded outfield over 288 at-bats. This season Mench was playing in the minors. Mench did have a couple of solid offensive seasons with Texas.

If Mench is used correctly, I think he can be an asset to a team that was expected to destroy left-handed pitching but has struggled miserably against them. Are you ready for this? - the Jays have hit a Jason Phillips-esque .221/.304/.337 thusfar this season against southpaws. Over his career, Mench is .305/.361/.563 against left-handed pitching. One big caution, though, is that Mench historically has hit much better at home than away, which suggests that his numbers may be inflated by the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. The fact that he struggled so much in Milwaukee lends additional evidence to that argument, though it's by no means airtight. Mench has never hit well against righthanded pitching and doesn't field or run the bases well, so is not really suited for an everyday job. I think he can help the team (though he certainly didn't last night against lefty C.C. Sabathia) and I would platoon him with Matt Stairs at DH and make him the first righty bat off the bench on his off-days.

Brad Wilkerson (left) was a beloved member of the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals until he was traded to Texas for Alfonso Soriano. Wilkerson has had major injury problems over the past several seasons, including elbow, forearm, and shoulder problems. Wilkerson, a Kentuckian like new teammate Scott Downs, hit .234/.319/.467 last season for a 104 OPS+. Over his career, Wilkerson has both walked more and hit for more power than Mench and had 20 HR last season in under 400 plate appearances, which sounds great, though he also hit much better at the Ballpark at Arlington than on the road. Wilkerson doesn't cover ground in the outfield like he did when he was a solid centerfielder, but he still looks to play the corners pretty well, and he also plays 1st base. Wilkerson was not hitting well for Seattle early this season, but is only 31 so it's not clear he's over the hill, though it's certainly possible that injuries have worn him down. His main assets are his power and patience, particularly against right-handed pitching (though he has actually hit left-handers well over his career in limited action, with an .819 OPS (probably skewed a bit by facing left-handers who are not as good. Wilkerson's career line against righties looks pretty nice, .244/.351/.445, and the Jays have not hit righties very well this season either (though not as putridly as lefties) and went into the season needing help against righties following a season where they could not even manage a .700 OPS against them.

It seems to me that the Jays had a more immediate need for a player like Mench, since they had no one to take righty at-bats at the DH spot when a left-hander was pitching, and the team has struggled so mightily this season against lefties. Although Wilkerson has (or had) definite skills, it's hard to imagine that he will outperform what Adam Lind could do over the rest of the season, though their skills are different (Lind is more of a righty-killer who hits more line drives and strikes out less while Wilkerson walks more and has more of an uppercut swing that will likely result in more home runs as the weather gets warmer. But if Wilkerson can get back to his numbers before injuries slowed him, he's the better player, I think, and the Jays can certainly use another left-handed bat with power. It's unclear how Wilkerson and Stewart will split the playing time in leftfield, with Wilkerson getting the start yesterday over Shannon Stewart against lefty C.C. Sabathia (he went 1-3 with a hard groundball single). Stewart has not shown much and may end up getting cut by the Jays sooner rather than later, even though he has been playing a little better. Wilkerson hasn't hit lefties badly over his career and is better in the field. Even if Wilkerson doesn't work out, I'd rather see Lind given another chance at the everyday job than see it handed back to Stewart.

Of course, the wild-card is that Vernon Wells left yesterday's game after making a diving catch with both wrist and hamstring injuries. Apparently, his hamstring was just tight, but the wrist injury looked extremely painful, though it didn't look to us watching like it was a displaced fracture or anything. Wells will have more tests today and won't be in the lineup. Both Mench and Wilkerson will be needed if Wells has to miss any significant time. But what the team really needs is for them to play well, not just to play. Enjoy your Saturday, see you later for the game thread.

 

Update: Looks like Wells did indeed break his wrist and is out for 6-8 weeks. Typically, though, wrist injuries allow you to get back on the field in about 6 weeks or so but take much, much longer than that to fully recover. It sounds like Wells will be back around the all-star break. Get well, Vernon.